31 Jan 2022

Flora / Sandalwood trafficking in Kenya: deforestation and the exploitation of local communities

The illegal sandalwood trade is sustained by a broad network of actors.

Sandalwood trafficking in Kenya is a multi-million dollar trade that exploits local communities and leads to deforestation. The illegal trade in sandalwood has been sustained by a network of actors, from the community level to international markets. This has resulted in the devastation of community forests and has placed the sandalwood tree at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, middle- and upper-tier actors in this criminal network continue to enrich themselves.

While the mandate to protect sandalwood in the wild belongs to the Kenya Forest Services, weaknesses in the Forest Conservation and Management Act No. 34 of 2016 has enabled the prosecution of sandalwood trafficking cases though the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013. The confusion that has emanated from lack of clarity on enforcement jurisdiction has emboldened sandalwood traffickers when presented in court. Further, lack of harmony in East African conservation laws has further facilitated the protection of Kenyan sandalwood smuggled into Uganda and Tanzania.

About the author

Dr Willis Okumu is a senior researcher at the ISS in the ENACT Programme, and is based in Nairobi. He previously worked as the peacebuilding coordinator/researcher at Anglican Development Services Kenya. His research interests include transnational organised crime, human–environment relations, inter-communal peacebuilding and pastoralist livelihoods in East Africa and the Horn. He has a PhD in social anthropology, an MA in culture and environment in Africa from the University of Cologne, and a BA in political science and sociology from the University of Nairobi

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